Friday, September 30, 2016

Women, A History: Matoaka "Pocahontas" //Rebecca Rolfe - Mother of Two Nations


Matoaka"Pocahontas"//Rebecca Rolfe
Mother of Two Nations
(c. 1596-1617)

The Baptism of Pocahontas (1840) by John Gadsby Chapman
     Most people nowadays associate Pocahontas with the 1995 animated Disney film Pocahontas which is based on the actual historical figure and centers on her relationship with Captain John Smith. While many people (primarily the Christian/fundamentalist/homeschooling community) despise the film as being either historically inaccurate (no, there are no cliffs in Virginia) or promoting cultural religions such as animism (which is what the Native people would have practiced, so wouldn't that be considered accurate??), the movie launched a worldwide fascination with Pocahontas to the millennial generation. Pocahontas is one of the greatest and most beloved figures in American history who has continued to intrigue and inspire long after her death. 

      Although she has been disputed to have many names, here childhood nickname Pocahontas is what has made her legendary. Historians believe that she was given the name Matoaka by her father Powhatan, the paramount chief of the Tsenacommacah nation. Little is known about Pocahontas' early life, but that she was described as a playful child (hence her nickname which literally means "playful one") and a favorite of the tribe. She was said to be the youngest of Powhatan's children and had a multitude of brothers and sisters. As a child, Pocahontas would have learned how to garden, plant, plow, care for animals, gather wood and make her own clothes.

     Then in 1607, the English came to Virginia and settled in Jamestown. Among them was Captain John Smith who was intent on discovery and adventure and certainly found it when he was captured by Powhatan's people. As the supposed history goes, the natives were fearful of the white men and their weapons and were about to put Smith to death. However, Pocahontas (who was between the ages ten and twelve) begged her father to spare his life. Powhatan complied and set Smith free. As supposed historians say, Pocahontas and Smith were good friends, but anything beyond that is pure speculation. 

The Marriage of Pocahontas and John Rolfe by John Gadsby Chapman?
     Eventually, Smith had to return to England and Pocahontas herself became a a captive prisoner during a the first Anglo-Powhatan War in 1613. She was captured by the English and held prisoner there for over a year. During a standstill in the war, Pocahontas supposedly rebuked her father for choosing war over his own daughter and said she would rather stay with the English.

       Through her imprisonment she met John Rolfe, a widower from England who was the first successful planter and distributor of the tobacco plant. Overtime, Pocahontas began to adapt to the Anglo-Saxon ways of the English people, learned to read and write, started to dress like the women and converted to Christianity, taking on the name Rebecca. Eventually, John Rolfe believed himself to be in love with her and through a great deal of trial, convinced the governor of Virginia to let him marry Rebecca. They were married on April 5, 1614 and had one son, Thomas. Rebecca's feelings for Rolfe were unknown, but many said that they were a happy couple and loved their son dearly. 

     John and Rebecca's marriage helped bring temporary peace between the settlers and the natives and ended the war for a short time. In 1616, the Rolfe's traveled to England where Rebecca was considered quite a speculator sight to the English. After living in England for almost a year, John and Rebecca boarded to go back to Virginia in March of 1617, but Rebecca became ill with either smallpox or pneumonia and they had to stay in England. Rebecca died a few days later in John's arms. She was buried on March 21, 1617 in England. John and Thomas returned to Virgina and stayed there until their deaths. Pocahontas has several well known descendants, including First Ladies, Edith Wilson and Nancy Reagan. 



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